On a sunny Budapest morning, a group of volunteers gathered together on the top of Gellért Hill armed with gloves, rags, and scrub brushes. They peeled leaflets off poles and painted benches and fences. The graffiti, the group's main target, was washed away. "It's looking better," said József Moravcsik with a big smile. József is one of the leaders of Szeretem Budapestet (I Love Budapest), a non-profit organization committed to keeping Budapest beautiful. He'd asked me to join him. As József and I cleaned side by side, I asked him some questions about the organization.
How long has the Szeretem Budapestet been around?
"We began in 2004."
What led you to get involved with the organization?
"I, like many, was so frustrated with all the tagging, the illegal posters, and how dirty the city was. Before I got involved, I would walk around and clean it up myself."
How many places has Szeretem Budapestet helped clean up around the city?
"Since we began, we have cleaned over 4500 houses, public surfaces, and bridges. We've cleaned the Chain Bridge several times. We're due for another clean up of that. Sadly, it's a target."
It must give you a great feeling knowing you're doing so much good for the city.
"It does. I love this city. I've been all over Europe, and Budapest really is one of the most beautiful cities on the continent."
Has the tagging problem in Budapest decreased?
"Yes, I'm happy to say. The tagging has reduced dramatically. Before 2006, there was lots of graffiti and illegal signs on the windows of closed shops and buildings. It's much better now. You can really see the difference. The police have joined in the efforts, too."
How does Budapest's tagging problem compare with other European cities?
"Other cities like Prague and Barcelona that have their tagging problems under better control. We still have a lot of work to do."
Does the government help with this campaign?
"Not really. Our organization receives its support mainly from individual supporters."
Were you influenced by any other cities' cleaning campaigns?
"Yes. What we do is based on what we saw happening in New York City. Mayor Giuliani really helped clean that city up."
What's the process you use to remove the tagging?
"We use a variety of methods. We often use a high-pressure power-wash system hooked to our van. Other times we scrub by hand with spray bottles and chemicals. Sometimes we paint over the tagging. It depends on the severity."
What was one of your most successful cleaning campaigns?
"Back in 2011, we had a clean up with dozens of men and women dressed as St. Nicholas. It was great fun. The weather was perfect. A couple of celebrities even came out for the event. We got a lot of press coverage for that."
How can people get involved?
"Go to our website at szeretembudapestet.hu or our Facebook page at Szeretem Budapestet Mozgalom, attend our events, come out and help us clean. We welcome everyone! Who knows, if you come out in December, maybe we'll put a Santa Claus hat on you, too."